Exit Interview: Roberts was the Hurst 'project' which never truly got off the ground
PUBLISHED: 19:00 09 January 2020 | UPDATED: 20:04 09 January 2020
Jordan Roberts has left Ipswich Town and joined Gillingham on loan for the rest of the season. ANDY WARREN looks at his time in a Blues shirt.
"He was always one that was brought in, in truth, that we expected to be, not a project, I hate that word, he's not an experiment as such, but we expected it to take probably longer for him to get to where we want, if he does at all."
Those were the words of former Ipswich Town manager Paul Hurst when assessing Jordan Roberts, just a couple of weeks into the forward's first season at Portman Road.
It was clear from the start there was little pressure for him to hit the ground running following his arrival on a free transfer from Crawley, but the winger (who would later become a makeshift striker) showed flashes of his ability in pre-season and some bright moments in the two games he played under Hurst.
He played only 23 minutes under Hurst before he was fired in October, with his Ipswich career seemingly heading upwards when he did a good job for Paul Lambert following the latter's arrival at the end of that month.
He did so as a makeshift striker and that was where he stayed in the manager's thinking during the 11 appearances he made for the Scot, who ultimately loaned him to Lincoln after the cavalry (Will Keane and Collin Quaner) arrived in the January transfer window.
That loan didn't work out as he played just 54 minutes of football and was consistently an unused substitute as Danny Cowley's Imps won League Two last season.
So it was back to Ipswich for Roberts, where his campaign has been limited largely to the EFL Trophy, where he scored three goals but also suffered a nasty toe injury which has kept him sidelined for a long spell.
After each bright performance in cup competitions Roberts spoke of needing to take his chances when they came and hoping he had 'sent a message' to Lambert.
Sadly, though, that message didn't translate into league appearances and
he departs for Gillingham having scored three goals in 10 starts and seven substitute appearances for the club.
What went well
The role Roberts played following Lambert's appointment last October should not be understated.
The 26-year-old was used as a makeshift striker at a time when the Blues were struggling for any kind of physical presence in the final third and, while he was a little rough and ready in terms of style and control, he deserves credit for the role he played. His effort, whenever he;s been involved, can't be faulted.
He won the penalty which Freddie Sears converted in Lambert's first game, against Preston, before creating a goal for the striker with some strong forward play in the draw at Reading.
His opportunities this season have been limited to cup competitions, aside from one League One minute against Sunderland, with his three Ipswich goals coming in the EFL Trophy as he struck a brace against Tottenham's Under 21s and another against his new employers, Gillingham.
He had little opportunity in his more natural wide position but, on the rare occasions we did see him in that role, he showed he possess good crossing ability which you feel Ipswich never really made full use of.
Areas to improve
If Roberts is to be a striker going forward in his career, he needs to add a greater element of control to his game.
His run in the side in the early days of Lambert saw the ball stick rarely, with his control under pressure letting him down at times. He was also guilty of seeing a handful of chances go missing.
That's perhaps hyper-critical, given he was playing in an unfamiliar position, but it's what stopped him playing a more regular role under Lambert.
The hope must be that regular football, either wide or as a central striker, will aid his development.
What the future holds
In Gillingham, Roberts has joined forces with boss Steve Evans, with the Priestfield club sitting 13th in the table but just three points off the play-offs.
In a tight league a run towards the promotion places can't be discounted but, in truth, just playing regular football for the first time in two years is Roberts' real prize.
His loan runs until the end of the season at which point his Ipswich contract will have expired, meaning it's highly likely he's played his final game for the club and will be looking for a new full-time home for next season.
He's clearly got ability so perhaps finding his feet at a lower level may help the 'project' to move to the next stage,